As a woman, there's a lot you can do to prevent health problems. You can have regular checkups, eat healthy, stay active, and get enough sleep. But what else can you do?
Screening tests can help find health problems before you know something's wrong. Treatment often works best when a disease is found early. Ask your doctor about preventive care and tests you need based on your age and health.
Many doctors follow the guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The USPSTF is the nation's leading source of guidelines for screening tests. Doctors may also follow other recommendations, like those from the American Cancer Society or other expert groups.
The following are health screenings you may need, depending on your age and risks. Ask your doctor if there are other tests you need.
Get your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years if your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80 mmHg). If it is 120/80 or higher, you may need to get checked every year or even more often. Ask your doctor.
Experts disagree about the best age for women at average risk of breast cancer to start getting mammograms:
- The American Cancer Society recommends that women have a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year starting at age 40.
- The USPSTF suggests that women start having mammograms at age 50 and repeat them every 2 years until age 74.
Some women may need to start screening at an earlier age. Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and your feelings about screening. Your doctor can suggest a screening schedule that is right for you.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women start having Pap tests at age 21 or within 3 years of becoming sexually active, whichever comes first. Most women should repeat the test every 1 to 3 years. Ask your doctor when you should start having this test and how often you should be tested.
The USPSTF recommends screening for colon cancer starting at age 50 and continuing until age 75. Some tests and schedules suggested by the American Cancer Society include:
- Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) every year, or
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
You may need earlier or more frequent screening if you have risk factors for colon cancer. Risk factors include age over 50, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer in your family. Ask your doctor which test you should have and how often you should be tested.
Screening for diabetes is recommended for:
- Anyone whose blood pressure is over 135/80 mmHg
- Adults who are overweight or obese and have any other risk factors, such as lack of exercise, family history of diabetes, or high blood pressure
- People with no risk factors starting at age 45
If the test result is normal, then testing should be repeated at least every 3 years. Your doctor may suggest screening more often based on your risk factors.
Most experts recommend that all adults over age 20 have a fasting blood cholesterol test every 5 years. You may need more frequent testing if you have any risks for heart disease, such as diabetes, obesity, or smoking. Ask your doctor how often you should get a cholesterol test.
Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for many health problems. To find your weight status, a doctor may use body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obesity. In women a waist size over 35 inches may also increase disease risks.
The USPSTF recommends DXA bone mineral density testing for:
- Women age 65 and older
- Women younger than 65 if they are at increased risk for fractures
Your doctor can assess your risk and tell you when you should get tested.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Discuss your risk of STIs with your doctor, who can help you decide what kind of testing you need. Risk factors include new or multiple sex partners, not using condoms, and having already had an STI.
HIV. The CDC recommends HIV testing:
- At least one time for everyone ages 13 to 64
- For all pregnant women
- Each year for those at risk of infection
Chlamydia. The USPSTF recommends chlamydia testing for:
- All sexually active women age 24 and younger, with repeat testing each year
- Women age 25 and older who have risk factors
Gonorrhea. The USPSTF recommends gonorrhea testing for all sexually active women who are at increased risk.
Syphilis. The USPSTF recommends syphilis screening for:
- All pregnant women
- Anyone who is at risk
Created on 08/01/2008
Updated on 02/24/2011
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Recommendations for adults.
- American Academy of Family Physicians. Summary of recommendations for clinical preventive services.
- American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer.
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Screening tests for adults (ages 30 to 49).
- American Diabetes Association. Executive summary: standards of medical care in diabetes - 2011. Diabetes Care. 2010;34(Suppl 1):S11-S61.